Invasive technology vs. humans

Many of the recent classics feature invasive technology. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and The Giver come to mind. The speaker on the wall, the camera in the room, the eye in the sky, always watching.

Today, we live with all of these things. We’re living the classics. The only difference is who’s watching, and why. In the right hands, invasive technology is a welcome convenience. But not all are right handed.

The threat isn’t with the technology, but with the humans who use it. Humans are capable of unspeakable evil. Which means the question of our time (and of every time) is not how to use technology, but how to redeem humans.

Here are a few words describing what “redeemed” looks like in day-to-day life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Dig deeply into any of these qualities and they grow even more appealing (e.g., love).

These are all descriptions of Jesus Christ, whose birthday is marked by Christmas. He was born to redeem humans, and December is a good month to read about Him.

Taking root and bearing fruit.

People leave. They leave marriages, families, churches, communities, and companies.

Leaving can be innate, as when birds leave nests. It can be natural, as in leaving town for a new job elsewhere. It can even be necessary. Dangers, deprivations, and emergencies insist.

But just as often, leaving reveals brokenness. Something isn’t working, so we leave.

Such departures seem mandatory in the moment, but there are reasons to reconsider. One such reason was featured in a New Yorker piece on Orange City, a multi-generational town in Iowa. It’s about being with the same people at the same stores, schools, churches, and coffee shops, every day, always. Consider this excerpt:

In his 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, the economist Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit — stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice — complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed. That’s why the centripetal pull of Orange City was not just a conservative force; it could be a powerfully dynamic one as well. After all, it wasn’t those who fled the town who would push it onward, politically or economically — it was the ones who loved it enough to stay, or to come back.

There’s much to be said for the deepening of relationships (communities, churches, workplaces) through “voice” and faithfulness. There’s love in this. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And it’s reciprocal. It sees beyond.

As the third and fourth generations flourish.

Seven signs of a productive meeting.

Meetings will make or break your project. Don’t hesitate to shake up or decommission teams that aren’t working out. Here are seven ideals to shoot for.

1. The only people in the room are stakeholders and gatekeepers. They care about the outcome.

2. Everyone knows why they’re in the room. They also know what’s being decided, solved, or accomplished.

3. Preparations happen beforehand. “I don’t know — I’ll need to look it up,” should never be said in a meeting. That’s a pre-meeting commitment. If someone doesn’t prepare, it means they don’t care, which means they don’t belong in the room.

4. Establish mutual respect. Each member’s interests or expertise should be understood by the others. Politics, conflict, sensitivity, assumptions — resolve them beforehand. When four people tiptoe around a fifth, nothing gets done.

5. Focus on the customer. Begin by knowing the customer, and keep returning to the customer’s interests. Never assume customer behavior that serves the product. That’s backwards (and unlikely).

6. Squelch dieseling. Encourage participants to ask questions or make statements without extended explanations. Crisp comments yield clarity which fuels progress. Run-on remarks suffocate engagement as others grow weary of waiting.

7. Critical assessment is crucial to progress. If it didn’t work the first time, discover why not. If the solution is vague, clarify what’s fuzzy. Ask questions. Push into the uncomfortable. This may take time, but it yields spectacular fruit.

Seven keys to compelling presentations.

We all present, whether in meetings, explanations, or conversations. Each time we present, we’re wielding influence. Here are seven ways to strengthen your influence.

1. Know your stuff. The meaning, reasons, details, background, challenges, exceptions, and weaknesses. You don’t have to share it all, but you should know it. Uncertainty voids authority, and you can’t slake interest without substance. John Boyd, the influential military theorist, prevailed in presentations because he did his homework, didn’t sling half-baked ideas, and never used imaginary statistics. When you know your stuff, no one can discredit your argument.

2. Speak truth. There’s no point to presenting if you can’t be trusted. When you tell the truth, people respect you, even if they disagree. People who disagree can work together. People who don’t trust each other can’t.

3. Tell the story. We live, dream, and relate in story. We aspire, create, and prevail through story. We perceive, grieve, loathe, and love by story. Story is the universal language. It defines and divides us, motivates and sustains us. Seth Godin, marketing guru, observes about story, “People like us do things like this. There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this.”

4. Develop a style that serves your audience. Style speaks more loudly than words. Are you selling? Spinning? Posturing? Hiding? Fast-talking? Boring? Listeners don’t mind conviction, persuasion, emotion, velocity, or gentle pacing — as long as you’re speaking to them and serving their interests. Present as if to those you love.

5. Don’t wing it. Most people are smarter than you realize. The more prepared you are, the more respect you convey. Nearly everyone will endure respect. Few will abide condescension.

6. Feature the big news. Signal your bold strokes. Preparing the stage is fine, but don’t build the theater before platforming your point. The longer you wait, the smaller your audience.

7. Believe it. Even if you’re presenting for the thousandth time, delivering bad news, or running on no sleep, remember why you’re doing this. How it makes things better. That your message is the very thing someone needs. This will keep you alive in the process, and life is contagious.

Sunday in Rochester

Fresh from a hearty dousing at Niagara Falls, we rolled into downtown Rochester for the weekend. On Sunday we walked to a nearby church — and came away even more refreshed than from the Falls.

Their service featured a greeting, two songs, teaching from Romans, and two more songs. That was it. Gather our attention, focus on God, explain His Word, focus on God, send us off encouraged.

We sat in the middle, surrounded by several hundred Millennials. If I lived in Rochester, would I come back? Absolutely.

How many places on earth can you show up in an unfamiliar city, walk to a pleasant venue, get blessed for an hour — for free — and walk away better off than you came? We have much to be thankful for.

Described with thunder

Poetic metaphor is stealthy. Magnificent references can be mistaken for sleepy flourishes. Beware of this, for not all metaphors are meant to be delicate.

Back in the day, we tacked Niagara Falls onto the end of too much vacation. Bad move. I still hope not to be remembered by my kids for that visit. Two weeks ago, feeling redemptive, we again stopped at Niagara, this time on our way to Rochester. Here’s what we discovered.

Niagara is actually three falls, the smallest of which is Bridal Veil Falls. Picture a grape tucked between an apple and a watermelon. At the foot of Bridal Veil Falls is a wooden deck that takes you right up to the spray from the edge of the smallest of the three falls. When you first see it, you think, I paid money for this? And now they’re making me wear a rain slicker and plastic flip flops? Huh.

But then something happens. You see people coming back from the end of the deck — and they’re soaked. And you notice that, the closer you get, the harder it is to hear each other talk. In fact, the people ahead of you are screaming and shrieking and holding their hands over their faces.

And the closer you get, the more wet you become, until there’s so much water flying around you can’t even keep your eyes open. And, despite the crowds, there’s no one actually standing on the final platform — the one right up against the spray from the edge of the smallest of the three falls. Taking a group selfie is out of the question. You’re all just shouting over the thunder and trying to keep your eyes open against the force of a fire hose driving you back from the edge.

Some of us forced our way up to the railing and faced into the torrent — but not long enough to count to ten, for the pain and the pounding and the thunder and the force of the spray in your face makes it impossible to see or get any closer.

Imagine what it would be like to step into the full force of six million cubic feet of water crashing down from over a hundred feet above. Who could stand against such unrelenting power?

Now, picture the full force of this poetic metaphor:

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

When we petition the Almighty to bring justice or righteousness to a land, people, or situation, we are not tiptoeing about. Not at all.

Bridal Veil Falls

The quandary of shepherding groups

We recently visited a church of twenty people. They invited us to stay for lunch, and by the end we knew names.

A week earlier we’d attended a much larger gathering. Two or three people greeted us, but mostly it was like sitting in a movie theater — hundreds of people watching the stage.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with large churches or right about small ones. What matters is shepherding those who attend.

Shepherding twenty people seems doable. I can imagine praying for each of them daily, and moving as a group toward “completeness in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). That said, keeping in close and regular contact with twenty people is not easy. Make it fifty, a hundred, or thousands, and how would you do it?

Back in the days of World War Two, The Navigators ministry in Honolulu was thriving. They had thousands of seamen from the Pacific coming to Christ and looking for growth. Short-handed, they herded them into classrooms for teaching. However, while classrooms accommodated the volume, the teachers did most of the learning.*

This crisis of growth prompted The Navigators to embrace a “pass it along” approach based on 2 Timothy 2:2:

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

How would this work in a church setting? To be honest, I’m not sure. Westerners avoid “personal” and trend toward private. Yet, most of us who follow Jesus Christ want to grow in our relationship with Him — and with others who follow Him. We want to grow, and to do it together. So, whether it happens in 2 Timothy 2:2 relationships or small groups or a culture of intentional hospitality, personal shepherding still seems the crucial challenge to solve in the local church.

* from Daws; pages 262-263